Being Data-Driven vs Following Your Gut: When to Do Each

Every business leader has a gut feeling on how to do things. But, sometimes, the data tells you to go the other way.
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Data-driven decisions are a hot topic right now. Why? Because every business in the world would like a sneak peek into the future and prepare the right strategy to face it. This can apply in all sorts of ways: from choosing a content strategy to justifying an expansion to a new market niche. All you need to do is define success upon metrics and stick to the plan. Right?

Well, in reality, any business leader will also take into account another unique and valuable resource: the gut feeling. Regardless of how many years of experience you have in the industry and how much data you have available, there’s always going to be that little “something” that tells you when a strategy feels right and when it doesn’t. 

The key, then, relies on balance. And the only way you can achieve such balance is by getting your metrics in order. Choosing the wrong metrics can lead to disastrous situations driven by perverse incentives. In other words, it isn’t uncommon for companies to create systems that reward wrong behaviors and rapidly escalate to unintended consequences. That’s just what happened in Wells Fargo’s cross-selling scandal

Goals and metrics will always send your company towards a direction, regardless of how data and your gut feeling impact your decisions. Here a few rules of thumb you can follow when you need to compare the two to set metrics and make better decisions. 

 

Be Qualitative to Answer Why

Taking a look at a well-made spreadsheet will tell you what is happening. Yet, that same spreadsheet isn’t always the greatest at telling you why something is happening. 

This becomes apparent in a UX context. Imagine that the monthly traffic to a particular page on your website suddenly drops by a significant percent. Naturally, your first instinct is to take a look at the backend data, but everything there says the website is functioning normally. 

In this case, the best way to find out why traffic went down is by switching to a customer’s perspective. Maybe something that used to be very easy to find just isn’t there anymore or maybe a competitor has added new features that your offerings lack. Once you find out, you can start implementing the necessary changes to move forward. 

 

Be Quantitative to Find Out How

Every time we enter product development here at BairesDev, the “how” is always critical to the equation. It’s very important to break down stages by steps and priorities, for which agile methodologies come in very handy. In my experience, delivering high-quality solutions will always require a team that knows how to work together. 

Taking a quantitative approach to problem-solving leads not only to faster product development, but also to better results throughout the entire process. It’s also a great way to get ahead of your competition. 

 

Be Holistic to Make a Choice

As the laws of nature have shown us for millennia, any real-world situation combines theory and praxis. Both qualitative and quantitative data have a place and a time in your actionable agenda. The influence of each, however, will depend on the specific situation. 

If you are a web designer showing early concepts to a client, qualitative data will most definitely weigh in the most for decisions-making. But when the time comes to do the actual thing, quantitative data is likely to take the lead. If in doubt, remember that A/B testing is your friend (more about that below). Your main goal is to find what drives the best results.

 

Be Quantitative to Predict

As we said before everybody wants to predict the future. No matter how much you trust your gut, every kind of prediction will inevitably rely on quantitative data. Your gut itself is relying on the data you’ve absorbed throughout your career—but let’s not get philosophical. 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two amazing technologies leading the predictions market. We actually wrote a guide on how to get the most business value out of both of them, which I highly suggest you take a look at. Your goal here is to detect potential opportunities and issues and prepare accordingly. 

 

Be Quantitative to Test

No matter the industry you work at, you should definitely be dealing with hypotheses as much as you can. There’s a reason why saying “What’s measured, improves” is so popular today. What’s more, by formulating a theory (e.g. I believe that posting twice as many times in our LinkedIn page will lead to 40% more engagement) you are already setting key metrics and formulating the strategy.

 

Use your Gut to Create

If you feel like we haven’t talked enough about gut feeling, this is where that changes. As powerful as AI can be, there’s no machine more capable of creativity than the human brain. Your gut is driven by all the knowledge you’ve acquired throughout your lifetime and is the best ally for coming up with big ideas. 

Regardless of where inspiration comes from, having a gut feeling is as good as it gets for doing something you’re really passionate about. This especially true when we start talking about bold creations that keep the human race moving forward.

 

Use your Gut to Judge

We are all ethical in our way, and that shows in the way we do business and grow as professionals. Taking that as a fact, I believe we can all agree that the right choice isn’t always the one that leads to higher revenue or reaching a KPI (just like we saw earlier with Wells Fargo). 

I believe that values can weigh just as much as the cold hard data when making a decision. Maybe even more. If your gut says something doesn’t feel right, you should probably listen to it and take a closer look at anything that’s causing that. Even if you were wrong, you would be right to advocate values over short-term success. 

 

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